Glossary

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kids on the Spectrum

Glossary

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA): A set of principles used in therapy, intervention, or education that are based on research about how people learn. There are many principles in ABA, and they may be used in highly structured (usually known as Discrete Trial Training) or more naturalistic teaching situations (such as Pivotal Response Training). Some of the main ABA principles guide the presentation of teachers’ cues to the learner about expected responses as well as how teachers should present rewards or reinforcement to give feedback to the learner and increase their motivation for correct responses.

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs): An umbrella term used to refer to a group of similar developmental disabilities, including autistic disorder, Asperger syndrome (AS), pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), childhood disintegrative disorder (CDD), and Rett’s disorder, as defined by the psychiatric manual, DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition). The hallmark of all of these conditions is a marked impairment in social interaction and language/communication skills, as well as the presence of restricted, repetitive behaviors and interests.

Asperger syndrome: Historically, ASD was a broad label for individuals diagnosed with autism, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), or Asperger syndrome. Autism and PDD-NOS differed primarily in the number of symptoms present. To be diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, an individual had to meet additional criteria: demonstrate no delay in language development and have intellectual abilities of at least average levels. With recent changes in professional diagnostic guidelines, these labels will no longer be used. Rather, the diagnosis that will be given to all who qualify will be “autism spectrum disorder.” To receive a diagnosis of ASD, an individual must show impairment in social and communication learning and behavior.

Aspie: Slang term for a person with Asperger syndrome; sometimes used by people with AS to refer to themselves, but may be considered offensive when used by others.

Autism: A complex neurobiological disorder that typically lasts throughout a person’s lifetime. Autism impairs a person’s ability to communicate and relate to others. It is also associated with rigid routines and repetitive behaviors, such as obsessively arranging objects or following very specific routines. Symptoms can range from very mild to quite severe.

DSM IV: This acronym refers to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition. The DSM IV is published by the American Psychiatric Association to provide clinicians with guidelines for diagnosing a wide range of disorders.

Expressive Language: Refers to a person’s ability to use language, usually in the form of speech.

Floortime: A treatment method as well as a philosophy for interaction that involves meeting children at their current developmental level and building upon their particular set of interests and strengths.

Hand Flapping: One of the repetitive and possibly self-stimulatory behaviors performed by people with ASD or other neurodevelopmental disorders.

High-functioning autism (HFA): Term used to refer to those on the autism spectrum who have minimal impairment in IQ. Severity of problems with social interaction, restricted interests, or preference for sameness may range from severe to mild across individuals. Sometimes the label HFA is used interchangeably with Asperger syndrome. Other times it may be used instead of Asperger syndrome because there was an early language delay or cognitive delay, which disqualifies a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome according to the diagnostic guidelines used by most professionals.

Hyperlexia: The ability to read the text in a book but not understand what is read. It is not uncommon to hear about children with ASD who teach themselves to read before they start school, but who have great difficulty getting the gist of stories.

Inclusion: In education, a placement in which the student with a disability attends a general education classroom with typically-developing peers.

Individualized Education Program (IEP): In the United States, the official and legal document negotiated between parents, teachers, school administrators, and others that sets down the educational plan for a special needs student. According to the United States Department of Education, the IEP “is the major mechanism for ensuring a child receives a free appropriate public education (FAPE). The IEP serves as a blueprint for the child’s special education needs and any related services.”

Low-functioning autism: Term used to refer to those on the autism spectrum who suffer relatively more impairment due to their disability compared to others.

Mainstream: In education, a placement in which the student with a disability is placed in the special education classroom but visits the general education classroom for instruction and social activities.

Meltdown: A term for the loss of control experienced by a person with an autism spectrum disorder who is overwhelmed by social, emotional, sensory, or other stressful stimuli. May include screaming, kicking, hitting, throwing objects, biting, banging head into the wall or floor, collapsing to the floor, etc.; a tantrum.

Occupational Therapy: A treatment that focuses on using productive or creative activity to maximize the functioning of physically or emotionally disabled people. Occupational therapists help an individual develop mental or physical skills that aid in daily living activities. They assess fine motor skills, age-appropriate self-help skills (like dressing), and sensory issues (like hypersensitivity to touch).

Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS): Historically, ASD was a broad label for individuals diagnosed with autism, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), or Asperger syndrome. Autism and PDD-NOS differed primarily in the number of symptoms present. With recent changes in professional diagnostic guidelines, these labels will no longer be used. Rather, the diagnosis that will be given to all who qualify will be “autism spectrum disorder.” To receive a diagnosis of ASD, an individual must show impairment in social and communication learning and behavior.

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS): An augmented communication program intended to help children and adults with autism to acquire functional communication skills. It uses ABA-based methods to teach children to exchange a picture for something they want — an item or activity.

Pragmatic Language: Refers to the “art of conversation”: taking turns speaking, staying on a topic for a polite number of turns (even if it’s not your favorite topic), showing interest in someone else’s comments, etc. Individuals with ASDs, and particularly those with Asperger syndrome, are known to have difficulty with pragmatic language. Helping them to learn pragmatic language skills is often a part of speech therapy.

Receptive Language: Refers to a person’s ability to understand spoken language.

Sensory Integration Therapy: A treatment used to help children, including those with autism spectrum disorders, who have motor, sensory, and perceptual difficulties. It is based on the belief that you can change the brain by changing experience. If a person has poor sensory integration — which then impacts the ability to function and learn — you can provide sensory experiences that will improve not only sensory integration itself, but overall functioning. Providers of Sensory Integration Therapy are most often occupational therapists.

Social Skills Training: Encompasses different approaches to teaching the building blocks of social behavior and interaction. Strategies for addressing the social deficits that characterize autism are varied, ranging from role-playing desirable and undesirable social behavior, to social stories, to social skills groups including children with ASD and typical peers.

Speech and Language Therapy: The assessment and treatment of issues in communication which may include articulation (pronunciation of sounds), receptive language (understanding and processing what is communicated by others), expressive language (the ability to communicate to others), fluency (including stuttering), voice problems (including pitch and intonation), and pragmatics (the social use of language).

Stimming: Short for “self-stimulation,” a term for behaviors which stimulate one’s own senses, such as rocking, spinning, or hand-flapping.

The preceding ASD glossary was provided courtesy of the Interactive Autism Network at Kennedy Krieger Institute. For a comprehensive listing of terms, therapies, and treatments, as well as evidence-based research findings, visit www.iancommunity.org.

More stories from our partners